Welcome to a new, scary era in American politics
President-elect Donald Trump, still officially only in the wings of power, had no hesitation horning in on the opening of Congress the other day. He castigated his own party’s leaders for giving priority to a matter of House housekeeping rather than addressing his urgent call to make American great again.
Of their decision to call a vote on killing off the Office of Congressional Ethics that ultimately failed, Trump tweeted: "With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog … their number one act and priority?" There were, he lectured, "so many other things of far greater importance."
Talk of the pot calling the kettle black. Here is the man who has refused to reveal his income-tax returns lecturing his party colleagues for paying more attention to attempting to bail out errant House Republicans for alleged bad behavior than to his urgent agenda.
America’s new expert on mass public relations was quick to recognize how bad the House Republicans would have looked, not only to Trump World but also to the country at large, if their opening act of 2017 was to let their accused brethren off the hook.
Thus instructed by the eager president-elect to pivot to his own concerns, House and Senate Republicans met privately the next day with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and discussed the prime objective of the Trump-Pence election campaign: to "repeal and replace" Obamacare, the centerpiece of the retiring Democratic chief executive.
Pence relayed later to reporters that with the congressional Republicans in power, they would undertake "a two-track approach" to getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, with Trump "working on a series of executive orders that will enable that orderly transition to take place."
In all this, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed satisfied that they and their followers were now on the same track with their impatient new Oval Office-bound chief.
Trump for his part alerted them to guard against letting the Democrats cast them as wreckers of the insurance plan that now covers some 20 million. In another tweet, he said his side had "to be careful the Dems own the failed Obamacare." Referring to the new minority leader, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, Trump tweeted: "Don’t let the Schumer clowns out of the web."
But Schumer told reporters after meeting with his flock that in the GOP repeal-and-replace drive, so far without providing details, the Republicans are "going to own it and all the problems in the health-care system. … It will be on their backs, and I believe a year from now they will regret they came so fast out of the box. … If you are repealing, show us what you’ll replace it with. Then we’ll look at what you have."
Trump himself has said he wants the Republican plan to retain two widely popular items in the Obama plan – no denial of coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and retention of coverage on parents’ offspring up to age 26. Also, most Republicans seem already to have acknowledged that most of the Obamacare coverage will have to remain operative until what would replace it is passed by Congress.
In any event, Trump has made abundantly clear that as president-elect he will have no hesitation not only to crowd the outgoing incumbent over the remaining two weeks of his White House tenure but also to assert himself as a prod to the House and Senate GOP majorities to get to work on his agenda.
There is no doubt already that there’s a new sheriff in the town who is determined to "drawn the swamp," as he calls Washington, D.C., and who intends to work his will on all branches, executive, legislative and judicial, with fireworks guaranteed regarding all three come Jan. 20, if not before.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.